Opening books, yes or no?
If you go to the "chess books" section of your bookstore, you may well notice that opening books are the predominant genre of chess books being published today. Consequently, most of the books being read are opening books which leads to the question:
Are opening books worth it? Are they helpful at all?
I hope to answer this question in this blog, or at least my opinion of it:
To answer this we must first distinguish the two different types of opening books.
1. For amateurs (non GM, etc)
These books, a good example being the "Starting out" series from Everyman Chess, are a great introduction to any opening. The reason for this is that they explain clearly the key conceptual points in the opening, including piece placement, tactical motifs, and traps to watch out for.
2. For GM's
These are the kinds of opening books that would contain lines up to move 30, and whose contents are filled with millions of variations - it is not too hard to find one of these kinds of opening books at the bookstore. These are good for those wanting to know the EXACT response to an EXACT line of choice.
So given these two different types of books, I suggest that they need to be read differently!
The books for "amateurs" (99% of the world included!) can be read from front to end and definitely should be! You can think of these kinds of books as "chess textbooks" or "tutorials" of some sort.
The books for GMs probably should only be read as a reference book, because in my opinion for most of the chess population, that's what they are... To read these books beginning to end and expect to retain most of the content is just madness - at least it didn't work well for me!
That said... there are some worthy alternatives to opening books:
Chessbase + big database or mega database.
If you aren't familiar with chessbase, in a nutshell it is a database upon which you can store games. Big database is a massive collection of all recorded games and Mega database is similar except with many GM annotated games included.
Openings change everyday - just as science revolutionizes the world, Carlsen revolutionizes openings... Well, obviously other GM's are doing a lot of opening work too but I felt that Carlsen needed some love after the past Caruana beating...
Joking aside, some may argue that the better way of learning openings is through the most recent tournament games. This is true, but of course you may have to do some work on your own to figure out which games are important to begin with...
So whichever you choose, be it opening books or databases, make sure you know how to use them! Good luck!